LAST week the NHS marked its 75th birthday. In 1948, it became the first health service in the world which was available to all and free at the point of delivery.
I care deeply about this principle and I was proud to help deliver the largest ever cash increase for our NHS (an additional £20 billion a year in real terms by 2023-24), while serving as a treasury minister.
Locally, the preservation (and where possible improvement) of health services has been one of my top priorities.
When the Care Quality Commission closed the old medical centre in Hatherleigh, I helped to ensure that a new surgery was delivered in Bridge Street.
When North Tawton Medical Centre was earmarked for closure, I worked with local campaigners to keep it open.
When a new purpose-built GP surgery in Crediton was needed, I helped to lobby the Secretary of State for Health for funding for the fantastic new facility we now have near the Tesco store.
When the former Torbay and Southern Devon Clinical Commissioning Group planned to close Ashburton and Buckfastleigh Hospital, I worked with local campaigners to keep the hospital open as a Health and Wellbeing Centre, delivering a range of valuable outpatient services, including those that weren’t there before.
But since the pandemic hit in 2020, our healthcare system has seen unprecedented demand, which has placed unprecedented pressure on it, locally here in Central Devon and across the country.
There was the direct and immediate impact of Covid-19 itself, then the long-lasting challenges of surgery and treatment cancellations and the continued effects of long Covid.
The government has taken major action to help our GP surgeries and hospitals manage current levels of demand.
This includes £1.6 billion to speed up hospital discharge and up to £645 million to enable pharmacies to do more, such as handling prescription medication directly, saving doctors valuable time.
Some £240 million is being invested in better telephone systems and online messaging tools and the government’s target to recruit 26,000 more primary care staff by 2024 has been met a year early.
Medical placements are also being expanded so we can train even more doctors and nurses, boosting the record numbers working in the NHS even further.
Recent statistics show that progress is being made in tackling the longest wait times for surgeries and treatments – waits of longer than two-years have been virtually eliminated in England and waits of longer than 18 months have been reduced by around 90 per cent.
But there is a huge amount more to do, and we are working flat out to make further progress.
Patient choice will be key – only 10 per cent of patients exercise their right to choose where they go for treatment but exploring alternative options can reduce wait times by up to three months.
I would urge anyone reading this who is waiting for surgery or treatment to ask their GP what their options are.